In the memory of my late father
Shri. Subhendu Sarkar
Who led a life of Six Sigma Excellence.
This book is dedicated to the following people
who worked silently to make me a better
Fr Joseph Lombart
Dr R K Patel
Mr Ashok Mittal
Six Sigma is a structured problem-solving
methodology which is a powerful lever
for business improvement 1
It’s the CEO and only the CEO who can make
Six Sigma successful in an organization 5
Take the members of the senior management
team on board with a champions workshop 8
Precede Six Sigma deployment with an
organizational assessment 11
Create a deployment platoon for the execution
of Six Sigma projects 14
The responsibility for the success of Six Sigma
projects lies with the champions 18
Improvement with Six Sigma entails finding
and working with critical X’s in a process 21
Build solid infrastructure pillars to support
Six Sigma in the organization 24
Appoint a marketing manager for selling
and marketing Six Sigma as a product to
the employees of the company 28
The quality council should drive Six Sigma
Implementation across the organization 32
Bolster Six Sigma projects with a solid
Review Framework 35
Becoming a master Black Belt requires
a practical demonstration of adeptness
in coaching, teaching, facilitation,
consulting and mentoring 38
When hiring a Consultant for Six Sigma
deployment, ensure that all laid down
criteria are met 42
Beware of the Consultant who gives a
Proposal to improve an Organizational
viii LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Business Process all by itself, without
the involvement of employees 46
Continuously evaluate the effectiveness
of Six Sigma teams 49
The composition of the Six Sigma project
team is critical to its success 52
During the First Year of Six Sigma
implementation, focus of deployment
should be on Value and not Volume 56
Appoint a Dashboard Manager who
is entrusted with the responsibility
of tracking process metrics 59
Six sigma deployment should precede
with the identification of Core Business
Do not take up Improvement Projects
in the cafeteria during the early days
of Six Sigma journey 65
Black Belts should not carry out small
improvement projects (read: Green Belt
projects) in the garb of those being Black
Belt projects 68
The project charter is a tool to manage,
control and approve Six Sigma projects 70
Scripting the problem statement right
is vital to a Six Sigma project 72
An effective Six Sigma deployment requires
a holistic mechanism to capture the voice
of the customers 75
It is important to focus on the Right Measure
to ascertain the efficacy of a process 79
Together with Sigma levels keep an eye
on the class of the process 82
While executing DMAIC projects do not
take short cuts. Follow all the steps 86
It is imperative that all Six Sigma projects
provide Real Time Savings 90
Just by calculating the potential benefits in the
beginning and accrual benefits at the end of
a project, will not get the ‘wow’ from either
the CFD or his team members 93
x LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Six Sigma methodology is just not for
manufacturing organizations. It can be
deployed in service organizations as well 96
Be on top of meetings. Let them be enablers
to project improvements 99
Before setting out to do a Six Sigma project
ensure that it is scoped well 103
The organization should have an effective
methodology to ensure that there is a
continuous flow of ideas 106
All improvement ideas need not qualify
as candidates for Six Sigma project 110
Creating the right organizational structure
is essential for Six Sigma deployment 112
Before determining the sample size and
sampling plan, ascertain if the data for
measurement is from a moving process
or is it from a stagnant population 115
Understand the key terms and the steps
involved in DPMO calculation 117
DPMO is a good concept but be alert
about the confusions it can create. Mindlessly
increasing the Opportunity Levels can
Increase the Sigma Levels 123
Do not be satisfied merely with Yields,
commence with the calculation of a
First Pass Yield 127
You can unfurl the non-value added
activities in your process from DPU
levels by a measurement called the
Rolled Throughput Yield 129
Defects in a Six Sigma process without
a shift is 2 Defects Per Billion and not 3.4
Defects Per Million opportunities 133
Get a sense of whether Six Sigma is delivering
value through the measurement of Quality
When a process capability is reported,
ascertain if it is a long-term or short-term
People at the top should have a gut feel
of the happenings at Ground Zero 143
xii LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
As a Six Sigma change agent, master the art
of conflict resolution 146
A defect is one which does not meet
the customer needs 148
Do not wait for problems to occur to initiate
improvements through Six Sigma projects.
Proactively take actions when precursors
and evidences to a problem are seen 150
Look at processes end-to-end while taking
up projects for improvement 153
Do not launch Six Sigma with the sole idea
of saving cost for your organization 156
Select the best performers to take up
Six Sigma projects 158
Be extremely meticulous about the Book of
Knowledge being followed by the trainers to
prepare your Black Belts or Green Belts 161
ISO 9001:2000 Quality Management System
serves as an excellent platform for Six Sigma
Banish waste by enmeshing Lean Thinking
with Six Sigma methodology 168
Appoint a Chief Process Facilitator for all
Six Sigma team processes in your company 171
While focusing on primary metrics
do not forget to keep the secondary
metrics on the radar 174
Six Sigma deployment may be a mirage
for small sized companies but there are
ways to go about it 177
Do not get perturbed if data points
in your Six Sigma project have a
non-normal behaviour 181
Deployment of Six Sigma does not
come cheap. Keep this in mind before
setting out on a Six Sigma journey 183
Avoid pre-conceived solutions from getting
Force-fitted into a Six Sigma methodology
without any data analysis 187
xiv LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
The Human Resource Department
cannot be a sleeping partner
in Six Sigma deployment 190
Six Sigma framework does not act
at cross purposes in an organization’s
journey towards achieving business
Once processes are improved using Six Sigma
methodology, it is important to take an all
encompassing approach to ensure that the
improvements are sustained 197
Process audits are an integral part
of Six Sigma deployment 200
Use Brown Bags to make your employees
refresh their knowledge on Six Sigma tools and
Bolster your Six Sigma journey with a Solid
Rewards and Recognition Scheme 206
Remember to work on mistake-proofing when
implementing Six Sigma solutions 214
Be ruthless if Six Sigma objectives
are not met 217
In case control charts are not being used
by process team members, replace it
with pre-control charts 220
Six Sigma is not an off-the-shelf solution
to organizational pains 223
Statistical thinking should be a way
of life in a company working towards
Six Sigma deployment 226
Six Sigma project team leaders need
to have focus, good relationships,
communication skills, ingenuity and
excellent project management skills
to translate the charter into results 229
Do not be complacent if processes have
reached at Six Sigma levels 232
xvi LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Six Sigma is probably one of the best methodologies to
pervade the world of improvements. What differenti-ates
Six Sigma from other quality methodologies is its
measurements orientation, rigorous training scheme,
process centricity and stakeholder involvement. The
tools in Six Sigma are not new but its direct linkage to
business objectives and priorities, makes it a powerful
strategy in business.
However there is a word of caution…….
Six Sigma is a great methodology but often fails to
deliver sustained benefits when we forget the small little
things that make a large difference. This book unfurls
some of those little things which are often lost and
missed during Six Sigma implementation. The Lessons
are essentially learnings captured during Six Sigma
deployment. The lessons may be ‘common’ and
mundane but are quite ‘uncommon’ in workplaces.
As far as possible the book has been kept bereft of
jargons so that it can be understood by all and just not
Six Sigma professionals.
A book like this does not happen easily without the
help of people who work and support silently behind
l Chapal Mehra (Managing Editor, Response) and
Sunanda Ghosh (Head Marketing-Sage) for
always acceding to my unreasonable requests.
This is not my first book with Sage but I can just
say its always a delight working with the team at
l My mother, my wife Sudeshna and my little one
Trisha who have borne with my selfish pursuits
which is often at the cost of spending time with
Please note that the lessons in this book are
as observed/experienced by me as a student of
quality and Six Sigma. It is quite possible that you
may not agree with some of them. Should you
have any feedback please feel free to write to me at
xviii LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 1
Six Sigma is a structured problem-solving
methodology which is a powerful lever for busi-ness
Six Sigma is a data driven structured problem-solving
methodology for solving chronic issues facing a
business. It is a breakthrough management process that
is used to improve a company’s performance by
variation reduction. The method encompasses breaking
down the customer’s requirements into steps to
pinpoint pains in a process. This results in the reduction
of defects and sustenance of process improvement.
The Six Sigma methodology essentially has two
elements which comprises the voice of the customer
and voice of process. It essentially entails reducing the
gap between the two voices and ensuring that they both
match. What differentiates Six Sigma from other quality
methodologies is that it can be used to solve key
For the first time we have a methodology which can
help quality professionals to add directly to the top line
or bottom line. Earlier quality professionals always
faced a struggle because the impact of their work was
often not felt in the company’s balance sheet. Six Sigma
has changed all of this. This methodology can be
leveraged to address issues which can be used in any
part of the business. Traditionally quality tools have
been used for solving only quality issues but this tool
facilitates the resolution of pains beyond the domain
of quality. Some areas where Six Sigma projects can be
very effectively used are: Revenue Generation, Cost
Avoidance, Productivity Improvement, Customer
Satisfaction, Customer Retention and so on. This is just
a partial list and can be further increased.
Six Sigma gives an excellent project management
framework wherein all power tools are packaged in
such a manner that it helps in providing the best
solution to a problem. Tools used are not new but the
way they have been structured gives its power.
Six Sigma uses a handful of powerful tools of
statistics instead of getting lost in over 400 tools of Total
Quality Management (TQM). The beauty of the method
is in its ability to use these tools in a model known as
Also, Six Sigma has added a component of financial
accountability and demands a strong focus on
measurement to constantly monitor the results of the
The Six Sigma framework has also taken quality from
the domain of quality professionals to others in the
organization. This is probably the best thing to happen.
Earlier there was always a struggle to ensure that
quality seeps deep and wide in organizations. Despite
2 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
all the efforts and various initiatives, progress was not
as expected and it only ended with the jargon ‘quality
is everyone’s business’.
Six Sigma puts a stop to gut-based solutions and
looks at all variables affecting a process. The solutions
are validated statistically so that the chances of imple-menting
a wrong solution goes down. It can be used
for both service and manufacturing organizations.
Earlier all quality tools had been manufacturing centric
but now this power packed method has been success-fully
used in service companies.
What makes Six Sigma different is that it forces
individuals to define customer satisfaction measures
and use teams to improve it. So it uses customer-focused
goals and measurements and drives continuous
improvement at all levels of the enterprise. When
effectively implemented, the Six Sigma technique can
help to ensure that both internal and external customers
voices are heard and efforts are made towards their
The power of Six Sigma can be leveraged by setting
attainable short-term goals while striving for long range
objectives. It is imperative that the projects support the
company and division goals that flow from top-level
company objectives. For making Six Sigma a success, it
should be treated as a business strategy and not just
another quality programme. Remember, the ideal
project should have a connection to strategic objectives,
should be recognized as being important to the
company, can be completed within a reasonable time
period, has the support of the management and has an
accurate evaluation framework to ascertain its
DEBASHIS SARKAR 3
Let me caution that Six Sigma is not a panacea for all
ills plaguing a company. If there are events outside the
organization’s control, Six Sigma cannot be of any
benefit. For example, an economic crisis affecting the
performance of a company cannot be solved by Six
It has been seen that with the change in the leadership
of a company, the Six Sigma implementation can go to
docks. It shall stay till there are leaders like Jack Welch
who give it the required thrust and understand its
Six Sigma Takeaway
Six Sigma as a business strategy increases custo-mer
responsiveness, builds customer relation-ships,
improves organizational resilience to
respond to market conditions and aligns people
and processes behind agreed objectives.
4 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 5
Its the CEO and only the CEO who can make
Six Sigma successful in an organization
Six Sigma should not be launched if the CEO does not
have the time for it or does not think it to be important.
Six Sigma should also not be launched because the CEO
feels it is the latest from the quality stable. It should
only be launched when the CEO is convinced that it is
the methodology that is required for his/her company.
He/she should have a strong rationale on how Six
Sigma can be a contributor to specific organizational
I strongly believe that it’s only the CEO who can
make a difference to a Six Sigma implementation.
Internal experts such as Black Belts and Green Belts may
implement Six Sigma projects, but it is the CEO who
Whether it’s Bob Galvin at Motorola or Jack Welch
at GE or Larry Bossidy at Allied Signal, it’s their
personal commitment and belief in Six Sigma that made
the difference. These leaders have given a new
definition to quality and proved that it can be a lever
for business improvement.
The CEO cannot just sign the cheque and take a back
seat. He or she should understand what Six Sigma is
all about and how it drives improvement to the
organization. He or she has to provide leadership and
create a vision, provide necessary resources, give time,
review and communicate to all that Six Sigma is the
improvement engine that will be the DNA of the
organization. It is his/her responsibility to ensure that
everyone gets involved in the implementation effort.
The CEO has to provide visible support to Six Sigma.
Remember, Six Sigma quality is more of a cultural
imperative that changes the way decisions are made.
The CEO has to walk the talk and manifest that he or
she lives by the Six Sigma framework day in and day
out. The culture that is built ultimately converts good
strategy into effective execution.
So what are the specific things a CEO should do to
make Six Sigma successful:
l Understand what Six Sigma is all about and
how it can be enmeshed with the business
l Create a shared vision that supports Six Sigma.
l Be the biggest messiah and evangelist of Six
Sigma in the company.
l Establish clear long-term objectives at a business
level wherein Six Sigma methodology can be
leveraged (as 10X improvement in quality
6 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l Lay down clear expectations from the senior
management team on their deliverables from
l Hold oneself and the senior management team
accountable to Six Sigma deployment.
l Ensure that Six Sigma process improvement
projects are directly aligned to organizational
l Review progress on a regular basis.
l Set up a senior management team that oversees
Six Sigma implementation.
l Provide all required resources in terms of
monies and infrastructure to make Six Sigma
Six Sigma Takeaway
The CEO should not treat Six Sigma as a quality
programme but should ensure that it becomes a
cultural platform which changes the organiza-tional
DEBASHIS SARKAR 7
Take the members of the senior management
team on board with a champions workshop
Recently I received a call from an executive who worked
for a well known organization which had embarked
on a Six Sigma journey. He asked me how to explain to
senior management team (champions) that Six Sigma
projects require specific steps to be followed and that
projects cannot be completed in two–three weeks, as
demanded by some of them. There were other champi-ons
who doubted the effectiveness of Six Sigma and
even said that it was another of those flavour of the
month management concepts that the company had
embarked upon. He also told me that such notions
persist despite the fact that Six Sigma was driven by
the CEO himself. On probing, I got to know that the
organization had commenced with Six Sigma deploy-ment
after the CEO had visited a few American
companies which had reaped huge benefits from this
Here was a case of an organization which had
commenced with a Six Sigma journey without taking
8 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
the buy in of the senior management team. Ideally,
before embarking on a Six Sigma journey, the senior
management team should be taken on board and must
know what Six Sigma is, what rigour it requires and
how it is different from other quality methodologies.
This is why a senior management workshop or a
champion’s workshop should be organized before
commencing on a Six Sigma journey. Through this
workshop the champions are taken on board on all that
is required for successful Six Sigma deployment.
Champions receive extensive training on the basics of
Six Sigma, project selection, management of Black Belts
and Green Belts, change management and so on. Such
workshops could either be organized in-house or
members could be sent to programmes outside the
The champion’s workshop is extremely vital as it
sets the tone for Six Sigma implementation. Since
champions are typically senior management staff such
as business heads or functional heads, the programme
should deliver the maximum value in the shortest
possible time. It always helps to get an eminent Six
Sigma practitioner for such a workshop. Remember, this
is required because the attendees of this workshop are
senior people in the organization and the workshop
should convert them from cynics to Six Sigma
advocates. If you are organizing a Champion’s
Workshop or choosing one for them, please ensure that
at least the following elements are covered:
l What is Six Sigma?
l Why Six Sigma?
DEBASHIS SARKAR 9
l Success Stories.
l Basic Statistics.
l Basic Six Sigma Tools.
l Why is measurement important?
l Traits of an effective measurement system.
l Introduction to Process Capability.
l Introduction to Minitab.
l How to go about Project Selection?
l Infrastructure for Six Sigma deployment
(Rewards and Recognition, Reviews, Com-munication
framework, Project Management
l How to manage change?
l Six Sigma and culture building.
Do not increase the duration of a champion’s
workshop beyond two days. The success of the
champion’s workshop lies in converting senior
management to Six Sigma advocates in the shortest
possible time. It is the champions who drive Six Sigma
and have the responsibility of making it a success.
Six Sigma Takeaway
Till Champions are not convinced with the power
Six Sigma, it makes no sense to go ahead with
10 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 11
Precede Six Sigma deployment with an organ-izational
After the CEO and the senior management have
undergone a Six Sigma alignment workshop (also
called: champion’s workshop), set up a core team which
is vested with the responsibility of making Six Sigma
an integral part of the organizational fabric. This team
should comprise the functional heads, business heads
(in case the company has a number of business units or
profit centres) and the quality head (also called the
The first activity of this core group shall be to carry
out an organizational assessment on the pointers
mentioned below. This should be carried out by talking
to key people in the company and interviewing key
customers and suppliers.
l Have processes been defined and mapped?
l Are there process owners for the processes?
l What sort of measurement system exists to
ascertain effectiveness and efficiency?
l Are the customers, suppliers, inputs and
outputs of key processes identified and known?
l Is the voice of the final customer/end user (or
l Are consumers asked what is important for
l What sort of corrective actions exist, when there
are consumer issues?
l What sort of competitive information do we
l Does everyone in the organization know who
his/her customer is?
l What sort of rewards and recognition mecha-nism
is in place for quality improvement/con-sumer
l How are conflicts handled?
l Is the organization person dependant or process
l How are decisions taken ? Who takes them and
are they fact based?
l Are people aware of the organizational objec-tives
l How is training and development decided
The objective of the exercise is to ascertain business
units which would be votaries of Six Sigma and
businesses which would face resistance. It shall also
throw up business units where Six Sigma should be
piloted or taken up. For example, process improvement
12 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
through DMAIC rigour cannot be carried out if
processes are not well defined (This has been discussed
in detail in some other Lesson). The organizational
assessment helps in scripting a deployment strategy
and unfurling the underlying culture.
Companies who have tried to imitate Six Sigma
driven companies without considering their underlying
culture have met with disastrous results. If the
company’s culture is not conducive to Six Sigma, the
culture must be changed before a Six Sigma programme
Six Sigma Takeaway
The culture of a company should provide a milieu
which encourages problem solving, excellence and
continuous improvement through Six Sigma
DEBASHIS SARKAR 13
Create a deployment platoon for the execution
of Six Sigma projects
While setting out on a Six Sigma journey, it is important
that a deployment platoon of Six Sigma experts is
created within an organization. This is required as these
experts are responsible for driving change across the
company. Unlike the other quality frameworks, the
biggest achievement of Six Sigma has been that it has
moved improvement out of the domain of quality
function and taken it all across the company. The
hurdles faced by the earlier methodologies were that
improvement was primarily driven by the quality
group as a result of which there were often issues of
ownership during implementation. In case of Six Sigma
this has been overcome as it has been treated as a
strategy for business improvement and not just quality
improvement. In Six Sigma, what happens is that the
improvement tools are handed over to people outside
the quality function.
14 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
It has been seen that the structure given below
has been most commonly followed in Six Sigma
DEBASHIS SARKAR 15
He or she is a senior manager who oversees the Six
Sigma projects. The person is mainly responsible for
providing direction on project scope and takes the onus
of ensuring that the project is successful. The role of a
champion is discussed in detail in another Lesson.
Master Black Belts (MBBs)
They act as internal coaches to Black Belts and are
responsible for a set of Black Belts to reach their project
goals. He/she must have successfully completed a
number of Black Belt projects. He or she is generally a
statistical and change management expert who
regularly deals with resistance to change and resolves
team conflicts. They often serve as change management
consultants to the senior management. They not only
have the knowledge of advanced tools and business
but also leadership training. A primary MBB role
responsibility is training and mentoring new BBs in the
organization. Certification as an MBB requires 20
successful projects, about half of which are as a Black
Belt and half while mentoring BBs.
Black Belts (BBs)
They are full-time quality positions responsible for
leading Six Sigma projects. They are project leaders who
are selected with different experience and academic
qualifications. Black Belts should typically be fast
trackers who have a credential for accomplishments. A
Black Belt assignment should typically last for two years
during which the BBs lead 10–12 projects. BB receive
exhaustive training which lasts from anywhere between
10 days to 20 days. To get certified as a BB a candidate
needs to complete the classroom training (spread over
three to four months), clear an examination and
complete a project mentored by a MBB.
Green Belts (GBs)
They are employees who carry on with improvements
together with their regular work. They are project team
members and do not spend all their time on projects.
They receive training on participation similar to that of
BBs, but possibly for lesser time. In some companies
GBs work on small projects (called Green Belt projects)
that are directly related to their work.
Irrespective of the organization, the champion is a
must in Six Sigma deployment. The deployment
hierarchies of Master Black Belt, Black Belts and Green
Belts are based on company requirements. In some
organizations, Master Black Belts are not there and Black
Belts are part-time roles. Some companies even have
16 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Yellow Belts or White Belts. Also, the certification
requirements may vary from company to company. The
above is just a suggested model. I would recommend
that a deployment hierarchy is created on the basis of
Remember, the term Blackbelt has been copyrighted
by the Six Sigma Academy. So many organizations use
titles such as Leaders, Grandmaster, Champion or
Paragons to signify similar training.
Six Sigma Takeaway
Black Belts can come from any function. When
trained adequately and given support, they can
become change facilitators in the organization.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 17
The responsibility for the success of Six Sigma
projects lies with the Champions
Who is a Champion? They are usually people who are
working at a level or two below the CEO. They are
typically Profit Center Heads, Business Unit Heads and
functional heads such as Chief Human Resources
Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Risk Officer etc.
They lead Six Sigma efforts in their group and are
responsible for its execution.
If the CEO lays the seeds of Six Sigma, the champion
acts as a propellant in his/her group. He/she acts as
the gel around whom the Six Sigma initiative is
anchored. They leverage the Six Sigma infrastructure
created by the corporate quality cell or the Quality
Council, to ensure flawless execution. The pillars of this
infrastructure are things such as Rewards and Recogni-tion,
Communication Plan, Review Mechanism, Project
Tracking Mechanism etc. These have been discussed in
detail in some other Lesson. The champions facilitate
the selection and prioritization of right projects and are
18 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
answerable on Six Sigma progress to the CEO or the
top management. They are also responsible for
increasing the internal capabilities to carry out Six
Sigma projects. Most important, they plan the deploy-ment
so that no part of the system becomes over-burdened
as the strategy unfurls, this is especially with
respect to data mining.
The Champions are expected to play the following
specific roles in Six Sigma deployment:
l Own all the projects happening his/her
business group or function.
l Create an overall plan for Six Sigma deploy-ment.
l Ensure that all projects taken up make a
business case and are aligned with the overall
l Set specific Six Sigma deliverables from team
l Hold team members accountable.
l Remove hurdles to implementation.
l Deploy the best people on Six Sigma projects.
l Review progress on a regular basis.
l Communicate with Black Belts on a regular
l Develop synergy between Black Belts and
ensure that they are brought together on a
l Personally approve all Six Sigma projects.
l Ensure that improvements are sustained once
the projects get over.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 19
l Continually increase the Six Sigma capability
by increasing the number of certified Green
Belts or Black Belts.
Remember, champions are the key element in the
success of Six Sigma implementation. Before anybody
else, they should be the first one to be taken through
an awareness workshop which demystifies the Six
Sigma and explains how it can be used for business
Six Sigma Takeaway
The champions should leverage opportunities of
each Six Sigma project to ensure that the impact is
20 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 21
Improvement with Six Sigma entails finding and
working with critical Xs in a process
Solving problems using Six Sigma methodology can
best be described by the following relationship:
Y = f (X1, X2, X3 … Xn)
Where Y is the dependant output variable or the
process output, X1, X2, X3 … Xn are called the
independant variable or process predictors, ‘f’ is the
function that defines the relationship between the
process output (Y) and the process predictor variables
(Xs). Y is the effect or the symptom which is caused by
the Xs (i.e. X1, X2, X3 … Xn). Output Y is a function
Six Sigma is all about finding the critical Xs which
affect the Y or the output of a process. Traditionally
quality professionals have looked at Ys and have tried
to work around with it. Six Sigma gives a structure to
unfurl the Xs which result in Y. Xs are also called the
Key Process Input Variables while Ys are called Key
Process Output Variables.
In Six Sigma, we discover both the controllable and
uncontrollable Xs which affect the process output Y.
However, the focus is not on all the process variables
(or Xs) but to use various tools to identify the few critical
Xs and work with them.
To elucidate the concept of Xs, let us look at the
manufacturing process of ice creams.
The diagram below mentions the various Xs which
affect the Ys.
22 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Mapping the process during a Six Sigma project
helps to identify not only the flow of events in the
process but also the inputs (Xs) and outputs (Ys) in
each step. So when a Six Sigma project is done, it is
imperative not only to capture the Ys but also the
When one commences with a Six Sigma project there
are many input variables. But as the project progresses
through the steps, it is found that only few of the
variables contribute to the variation in Y. At the
beginning of a process, it is a must to list all possible
Xs. But the rigour of Six Sigma is such that by the end
of the project only a few critical Xs get prioritized which
are then worked with. This is aptly explained by the
MEASURE # 30 – 50 inputs
ANALYZE # 8 – 12 Xs
IMPROVE # 6 – 8 Xs
CONTROL # 3 – 6 Xs
Six Sigma Takeaway
Most variations in Ys (outputs) are affected by
initial few Xs.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 23
Build solid infrastructure pillars to support Six
Sigma in the organization
An effective Six Sigma deployment requires the
following pillars which keep the wheels of a Six Sigma
moving. It comprises the following:
A. Operational pillars
These refer to the paraphernalia required for effective
execution of all Six Sigma projects.
t A.1. Roles of People Involved in Six Sigma—This
refers to the roles that people have to play in
Six Sigma improvement teams. This has been
discussed in detail in another Lesson.
t A.2. Project tracking and monitoring Implementa-tion—
This is the mechanism to track and
monitor projects under execution.
24 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
t A.3. Review Architecture—This is the review of
projects that are underway both for timeline
and Six Sigma rigour.
t A.4. Helpdesk—Six Sigma on Call—As teams
commence with projects it makes great sense
to institute a help-desk which takes care of all
queries of Six Sigma teams. This helpdesk
should be manned by Master Black Belts who
have prior proficiency in this field.
t A.5. Rewards and Recognition—Rewards and
Recognition should bolster Six Sigma deploy-ment
by recognizing achievements and rein-forcement
of behaviours that drive Six Sigma.
t A.6. Framework for Effective Meetings—As
meetings are an integral part of all projects it
is necessary to put in place a framework for
effective meetings. All project leaders should
be trained on running effective meetings.
t A.7. Benefits Tracking—This refers to putting in
place a mechanism to track benefits accrued
from each project. What is required is a
corporate guideline on Six Sigma benefits
B. Fundamental pillars
These are the essentials for driving Six Sigma as an
t B.1. Communication—A organization-wide
communication strategy should support Six
DEBASHIS SARKAR 25
Sigma deployment to ensure it seeps deep and
wide within an organization.
t B.2. Senior Management Review—This refers to
the CEO’s review with business leaders or
business heads or functional heads or a CEO’s
direct reportee; to ascertain progress. This is to
gauge the Six Sigma penetration and improve-ments
within a business or functional unit.
t B.3. Nurture Project Sources—It is important that
your organization should have a continued
source of potential projects. This could be
achieved by project selection workshops,
brainstorming, suggestion schemes, and
improvement ideas received in the Knowledge
t B.4. Leverage the Learning through a Knowledge
Management Platform—The learnings of each
project should be shared with the rest of the
members in the company.
t B.5. Capability Building through BB/GB program-mes—
This refers to the ongoing initiative to
increase the breed of Black Belt and Green Belt
within the organization.
t B.6. Create a Process Council—This is required
to identify processes that are taken up for
improvement. This council comprises operating
managers from various functions within a
t B.7. Process Audits—This is required to ascertain
the health of the improvements and to see if
they have sustained after project completion.
t B.8. Dashboards—The organization should
regularly get an overview on the status of
26 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
various projects through dashboards. It may be
a good idea to appoint a Dashboard Manager
for this purpose.
t B.9. Create a Quality Council—This is the coun-cil
of senior management who oversee the
implementation of Six Sigma. The responsibil-ity
of the success of Six Sigma depends on this
DEBASHIS SARKAR 27
Without the above pillars, setting out on a Six Sigma
journey may not be effective. It is important that a high
powered team led by an MBB or Head–Six Sigma is
made responsible for infrastructure creation. The
progress of pillar creation is reviewed on a regular basis
by the Quality Council. If the foundation of the pillars
are weak, Six Sigma implementation will get derailed.
Six Sigma Takeaway
The infrastructural pillars are the foundation on
which Six Sigma implementation is set on sail.
Appoint a marketing manager for selling and
marketing Six Sigma as a product to the
employees of the company
It may sound quite radical that a marketing manager
for an improvement initiative as Six Sigma is being
proposed! To some this may appear strange as
marketing managers are required for selling products
to consumers and not for selling Six Sigma to an
organisation. It may be further suggested that if the
CEO is committed and drives Six Sigma; things shall
happen and a marketing resource should not be
Although there is no substitute for the CEO’s
commitment in an organization’s Six Sigma journey,
the marketing manager is needed for a different
objective. While the CEO sets the vision for Six Sigma
implementation, the marketing manager sells the
concept of Six Sigma to employees. He will do so like
selling a product to consumer. The marketing would
take the message of Six Sigma across the firm.
28 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
By CEO’s mandation Six Sigma projects will happen
but for Six Sigma to become an integral part of
organizational DNA, it should be moved by the hearts
and conviction of people. This shall happen when
someone sells and continuously communicates the
benefits of Six Sigma to the organization. The marketing
manager of Six Sigma should be mandated to sell the
brand Six Sigma to all within the firm.
You may say that the Head—Quality or Head—Six
Sigma, can take up this position. Yes, it can be done.
But the problem is that typically, the Head—Quality
or Head—Six Sigma is not a person who has the
required marketing skills. What I am suggesting is a
person from the marketing or selling function, who has
prior marketing/selling experience in selling products/
services. This is because he/she will have the required
skills of marketing a product (Six Sigma here) which a
quality/Six Sigma professional may not possess. Yes,
for the long-term success of Six Sigma, it has to be sold
as any other goods are sold to the customers.
So what should you do after picking up a bright
person from the marketing or sales function is to train
him or her on Six Sigma. The best thing would be to
make the individual undergo a Black Belt or Green Belt
training programme, ensure that he or she completes a
projects and gets certified as a Green Belt or a Black
Belt. This is required because if we want the person to
sell quality, he or she should know what it is all about
and what it takes for execution. The job essentially
encompasses selling and institutionalizing Six Sigma
across the Six Sigma. This person could report to the
Head—Quality/Head—Six Sigma and be entrusted
with the following headline responsibilities:
DEBASHIS SARKAR 29
l Establish and communicate the key distinctive
benefits of Six Sigma deployment.
l Create presentation and promotional materials
for Six Sigma.
l Design various kinds of publicity programmes
to promote the cause of Six Sigma in the
l Do personal selling on what is Six Sigma and
how it can be a lever for business improvement.
l Use the telephone, e mail, internet and knowl-edge
management platform; to communicate
directly with employees.
l Identify influential individuals within employ-ees
(such as the union leader) and devote extra
time with them on the power of Six Sigma.
l Work towards developing word-of-mouth
referral channels so that people look forward
to get associated with Six Sigma projects.
l Create awareness on Six Sigma among employ-ees
through ‘Six Sigma Awareness Workshops’
which should be made compulsory for each
l Share success stories of Six Sigma deployment
within and outside the company.
The following is a list of common communication
platform that an organization can use for Six Sigma
30 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
F Audio-visual material,
F Six Sigma query meetings.
Six Sigma Takeaway
To make the communication of your Six Sigma
marketing manager effective, ensure that the
individual qualifies as a Black Belt or Green Belt
before taking up this assignment. Remember,
communication is going to be considered effective
where the source is believed to have expertise.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 31
The quality council should drive Six Sigma
implementation across the organization
Set up a Quality Council that comprises the Chief
Executive and the top management team who can
oversee Six Sigma implementation across the organ-ization.
The quality council should meet on a regular
basis to guide, review and plan for Six Sigma implemen-tation.
Also called the Leadership Council or Six
Steering Committee, the main responsibilities of this
group are to define and prioritize the quality improve-ment
objectives and to maintain the correct rate of
implementation. The following is a list of roles which
should be played by a Quality Council in a Six Sigma
l Establish a vision and script an overall Six
Sigma implementation roadmap.
l Select specific processes for improvement.
l Remove barriers to implementation.
l Ascertain and address cultural issues in imple-mentation.
32 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l Ensure that the best people are selected for Six
l Define Six Sigma objectives for the entire
organization which includes people at the
l Ensure that improvements are quantified and
determine how they impact bottom-line.
l Support and commit the assignment of
l Assess the performance of Six Sigma projects
to ensure its continuing suitability and effective-ness
in ensuring customer satisfaction.
l Review progress of current projects and the
findings of internal audits of closed projects.
l Review quality costs and where Six Sigma can
be used for betterment.
l Select process owners for core processes.
l Ensure measurements are established for all
l Demand solid results.
l Resolve and remove escalations and conflicts.
l Ensure that the Six Sigma capability of the entire
l Ensure that the basic infrastructure is in place
before Six Sigma implementation.
l Involve suppliers in Six Sigma implementation
and collaborate with them.
l Show constancy of purpose. If you promise
something, then deliver it.
l All members of the Quality Council must walk
the talk, and maintain the vision, drive and
DEBASHIS SARKAR 33
If your organization has multiple business units, it
would be a good idea to have a Quality Councils both
at the apex level of the company and within each
business unit. Please do not undermine the role of the
Quality Council in Six Sigma implementation. They
play a critical role in identifying the right projects and
ascertaining the best ways to roll out the initiative to
maximize impact. In certain organizations the Quality
Council also functions as a Process Council which has
been discussed in another Lesson.
Six Sigma Takeaway
The Quality Council should work towards
creating a culture that nurtures Six Sigma
34 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 35
Bolster Six Sigma projects with a solid Review
Reviews are an integral part of Six Sigma imple-mentation.
The main objective of reviews is to check
achievement against plan, check timelines and decide
actions to meet gaps. Other objectives include ensuring
that earlier committed actions have been carried out
and have delivered results. It is an opportunity to
understand and support cross-functional activity in Six
Sigma projects and to unfurl barriers to implementation.
Reviews also play a critical role in Six Sigma Project
The following are the types of reviews commonly
used during Six Sigma projects:
l Regular Reviews (Timeline Reviews)
These reviews are to be done by the Champion with
the objective of ascertaining adherence to timelines and
barriers to implementation. These reviews should not
take more than 15 minutes and should be centered
around determining the progress against a Gantt chart
that shows progress. These reviews should be extremely
efficient and discussed in minimal detail. In certain
organizations these are referred to as stand-up
meetings, stressing that they serve as updates and are
short in duration. These reviews typically happen on a
l Tollgate Reviews
These reviews are targeted in ascertaining the DMAIC
rigour being followed in Six Sigma projects. The Master
Black Belts typically chain these reviews. In case an
organization has commenced its Six Sigma journey, it
may hire external consultants (read: Six Sigma experts)
who facilitate these reviews. The review is also an
opportunity for the Black Belts/Green Belts to address
their queries on statistical tools and concepts. It would
be a great idea if the Champion is also present in these
meetings. The Black Belt or Green Belt should not be
allowed to continue onto the next phase until approval
for the same has been received from the Master Black
Belt and the Champion. These reviews ensure that the
Six Sigma methodology is followed and the appropriate
technical tool is used. In technical reviews there is a set
of process questions after each step which need to be
addressed. The Tollgates are an opportunity for
Managers, Champions and Master Black Belts to listen
to the teams, ask questions to ensure that the team is
focused on strategic objectives and guide the team on
tools and techniques. Tollgate Reviews are also called
36 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
The above are typically used during project
execution. However, the status of improvement is
subsequently reviewed during monthly quality reviews
held on a regular basis. In these reviews the trends of
key process metrics and audit findings for completed
projects are reviewed. Remember, these reviews are not
Tollgate Reviews or Timeline Reviews, as discussed
above. These are quality reviews that are held to
ascertain the state of quality in an organization and Six
Sigma projects are a part of it. Other agenda items of
such reviews are Customer Complaints, Quality
Management System Compliances, Audit Findings etc.
Six Sigma Takeaway
Six Sigma projects should not be allowed to
continue to the next phase until Tollgate Reviews
have been completed.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 37
Becoming a Master Black Belt requires a
practical demonstration of adeptness in
coaching, teaching, facilitation, consulting and
The other day I was talking to the Deputy Managing
Director of a manufacturing organization. He men-tioned
that his organization had commenced with Six
Sigma implementation. Further he shared that they had
appointed their Director-Operations as a Master Black
Belt (MBB) who would oversee the implementation.
While there was nothing wrong with the Director-
Operations being an MBB, what appeared queer was
how could a person who did not have prior experience
in Six Sigma become an MBB. Also, this reflected that
the organization had not understood the roles and
responsibilities of a Master Black Belt.
So who are these Master Black Belts?
They are super Black Belts whose depth with Six
Sigma methodology and strong leadership skills make
them Master Black Belts. They are technical specialists
38 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
who train, coach, facilitate, consult and mentor other
Black Belts. They are one of the prime drivers of the Six
Sigma implementation and coordinate mega projects
which run across the functions in an organization. So
what are the key roles of a Master Black Belt?
l Create infrastructure to facilitate Six Sigma
deployment across the organization.
l Help business leaders and Champions to
develop a list of projects in their respective
l Coach, train and mentor Black Belts on their
projects, tools and conflict resolution. They play
a stellar rule in helping BBs to interpret results.
l Together with the dashboard manager, MBBs
help in setting up a measurement system on
projects and organizational performance
l They coordinate mega projects and facilitate the
technical review of all Black Belt projects.
l The MBBs run a project management infra-structure
to monitor the progress of Six Sigma
DEBASHIS SARKAR 39
l Do training and workshops for Champions,
Black Belts and Green Belts.
l Work closely with Champions on deployment
l Communicate the firm’s strategic potential from
Six Sigma deployment to the top management.
The selection of a Master Black Belt commences with
the Black Belt Training programme and continues
through the execution of the subsequent projects. Do
not be hasty in selecting MBBs. Please ascertain if he/
she has the relevant skills and aptitude. Also, determine
if his/her career move as an MBB is aligned to his/her
long-term career goals.
So what does it require to become a Master Black
Belt? It has been discussed in an earlier lesson but let
me re-emphasize that a certification as an MBB requires
20 successful projects, about half of which are as a Black
Belt and half while mentoring BBs. They should have
achieved mastery on advanced statistical tools such as
Design of Experiments, Quality Function Deployment,
Failure Mode Effect Analysis, Analysis of Variance and
so on. They should have excellent communication,
facilitation and inter-personal skills; and should
manifest the ability to work across functional
boundaries. They should have experience in training
Black Belts and should have conducted workshops for
them. After selection of a candidate for the position of
a MBB, he/she has to undergo a two weeks programme
which prepares candidates for the role of a MBB.
Remember, a MBB should not only possess technical
skills but should also be a good leader to make Six
Sigma an integral part of the organizational fabric. So
do not undermine the leadership skills while focusing
on technical abilities.
When an organization sets out on a Six Sigma
implementation it may not have a Master Black Belt so
it is recommended that a Six Sigma expert or a
consultant is hired.
40 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Six Sigma Takeaway
Master Black Belts should work with Champions
to increase the DNA of Six Sigma experts.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 41
When hiring a Consultant for Six Sigma
deployment, ensure that all laid down criteria
When Six Sigma is new in your organization, hire a
consultant who will assist in the roadmap, train
employees, help in project selection, advise on
deployment infrastructure and partner implementation.
As with all consultant selection, be extremely careful
and do a thorough homework. I would recommend that
there is a laid down criteria which is used whenever a
Six Sigma consultant has to be hired. For a Six Sigma
consultant you should ensure that the quality council
comprising the company’s top management team is
involved in the selection. The following is a list of areas
that you should look at whenever you go out to hire a
o Reputation/References: Ask for references and
enquire on the companies he/she has asked for.
Validate the claims by calling up a few companies
42 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
that he/she has consulted for. The sample should
represent a cross section of the industry. You would
also require to check if there are any specific industry
that the individual specializes in.
o Credentials: Ascertain credentials such as educa-tional
achievements, association memberships, or
professional certifications. Is the person familiar with
the processes that operate in your industry and has
he or she been involved with quality improvement
in your kind of industry. Does the consultant possess
the desired listening and observation skills. This is
because a consultant needs to gather information
through listening and observing.
o Knowledge of Six Sigma Fundamentals: This is a
very important criteria in the process of selecting a
consultant for Six Sigma. Ascertain the knowledge
possessed by the consultants on Six Sigma tools and
techniques. Specifically look for information on how
they have used these tools in Six Sigma projects in
other organizations. Probe on their knowledge of
advanced tools as Design of Experiments, Multiple
Environment Over Stress Testing, Quality Function
Deployment, Benchmarking, Value Engineering,
Mistake Proofing, Control Plans, Multivariate
Analysis etc. Also, find out the number of Master
Black Belts and Black Belts in the group who have
had real life experience beyond consulting as team
leaders on Six Sigma projects. If the consultants are
also going to act as trainers, what is the content of
their book of knowledge? What are the various topics
covered and how are the corresponding simulated
exercises? Six Sigma is also about managing change.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 43
Please look into their past exposure in bringing about
Do not hire a consultant who is only a statistician
and not a Six Sigma practitioner.
o Package: To fully evaluate a consultant’s capabilities
you would require an assessment of implementation
strategy. This should include methodology and a
time plan for detailed implementation of the project
for which he or she has to be hired, specifically the
implementation structure and template that has to
be followed. Also, it must be decided whether the
consultant is just a trainer or someone who is going
to partner with all elements of Six Sigma deployment.
o Flexibility: Does the consultant have a repertoire of
providing flexibility, which should include the ability
to change the plan without losing sight of the
ultimate objective. He or she should be able to
complete tasks and achieve milestones without
disrupting the normal course of the business and
should blend in with the employees without affecting
o Costs: Establish how many on-site days will be
required to complete individual tasks. What costs
would be incurred and what is the expected ROI?
Do not hasten while deciding on a consultant for
Six Sigma. If it means spending a few more days and
a little more money, go for the consultant who meets
all the above criteria. Remember, the consultants are
going to create the foundation on which the build-ing
of Six Sigma is going to be built. So do not com-promise.
Go for the best.
44 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Six Sigma Takeaway
Consultant selection is like finding a wife for
yourself, be extremely meticulous and careful in
DEBASHIS SARKAR 45
Beware of the Consultant who gives a Proposal
to improve an Organizational Business Process
all by itself, without the involvement of
Many companies in India are hiring consultants to help
them in their Six Sigma journey. While consultants are
required, I have discomfort with consultants who are
trying to make the quick buck due to the ignorance of
the industry. Companies such as Motorola and GE,
while implementing Six Sigma, also hired consultants.
But they went for the right people who could steer the
entire organization towards institutionalizing Six
Sigma. Quality stalwarts such as Mike Harry and Keki
Bothe were associated with their implementation. The
results of their contributions are before us and hence
Six Sigma is an integral part of the organizational fabric.
It is not that India does not have Six Sigma experts
in our country. But companies are hiring Six Sigma
preachers who may talk elaborately but lack depth.
Organizations get swayed by the gift of the gab and
46 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
laptops, without probing deep on their previous work.
I am also amazed to see that consultants who were
earlier preaching ISO and then graduated to TQM, are
now evangelizing Six Sigma. My advice to all organ-izations
is to look at the credential of the consultants
before hiring them. I know of a consultancy firm, which
deputes fresh business graduates into implementing Six
Sigma projects. The client organizations are hardly
aware of this or are ignorant of the fact that imple-mentation
of Six Sigma requires specific skill sets. Before
hiring a Six Sigma consultant, a referral check with
organizations has to be done, to validate the consultant’s
claim. Find out if they have helped companies to
eradicate chronic problems or how many projects they
have worked on, which facilitate the achievement
of strategic objectives. Ascertain the consultant’s
familiarity with all advanced Six Sigma tools. This is
important to know because some problems may require
advanced statistical tools such as Design of Experiments
(DOE), where simple problem-solving tools may not
be of help. Be careful of consultants who try to sell the
‘Simple Problem Solving’ methodology under the garb
of Six Sigma or consultants who have tied up with some
non-descript foreign Six Sigma consultants. The criteria
that you should follow for consultant selection has been
discussed in detail in an earlier lesson.
A few companies have set out on a Six Sigma journey
by allowing consultants to improve their processes.
Participation of employees is either cosmetic or is absent
during the improvement process. As a result, the
improvement does happen but rolls back to the original
state after the project is over. Please avoid such
consultants who run Six Sigma projects without the
DEBASHIS SARKAR 47
involvement of employees. Instead of building internal
capability, such consultants are silently letting
organizations to be parasitic to external consultants. To
institutionalize Six Sigma in your company, use
consultants as facilitators and not as people who are
Six Sigma Takeaway
The consultants should act as facilitators and not
as people who are running Six Sigma projects.
48 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 49
Continuously evaluate the effectiveness of Six
As teams set out on Six Sigma projects ascertain if they
are effective enough to deliver the desired results. You
may have the brightest of people on the projects but if
their energies are not channelized well, they will soon
get squandered without delivering the required results.
Just knowing the best tools is not adequate, what is
required is a team which can keep the engine of the
Proactively ascertain the effectiveness of Six Sigma
teams. What are the traits of an effective team for Six
l The team has clearly defined objectives and a
l The team’s objective has a clear alignment with
the organizational strategy of the company.
l All members of the team are aware of the
problem being addressed, project goal and
reason why the project is being done.
l The teams have a Champion who regularly
l All team members have received training on
basics of Six Sigma and team dynamics.
l There is open communication among all team
l Members take critique and feedback positively.
l The team members are aware of the specific
roles that each one is supposed to play.
l Decisions are not based on gut and hunches but
l Team members are aware of suppliers, inputs,
customers and outputs of the process under
l Team members are empowered and have the
authority to take decisions.
l The team achieves all the pre-decided timelines.
l The team members spend adequate and
required time on the project.
l Credit is given to contributions of all team
Effective teams are required for successful Six Sigma
deployment. It is the responsibility of the management
to understand how to make teams effective. The
management has to keep the teams positively active to
produce desired results. Effective teams are only
50 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
possible when there is unstained focus and lot of hard
work on the part of management.
Six Sigma Takeaway
If tools are the sails of a Six Sigma boat, the teams
are its engine.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 51
The composition of the Six Sigma project team
is critical to its success
Every Six Sigma team should have an effective leader
who not only provides directions but also understands
the team dynamics. The team leader should not only
possess technical knowledge but also behavioural and
leadership skills to actively engage the members of the
The Six Sigma improvement team should definitely
comprise the following members:
He or she is the person who proposes a project for
execution. They have the budgetary authority and
pay for the expenses for a successful project
execution. In some organizations the role of a
sponsor and champion can often merge.
The champions are responsible for the success of
a Six Sigma project. His/her role has been
discussed in detail in an earlier Lesson.
52 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l Six Sigma Project Leader
This is the person who leads the Six Sigma project.
They are typically Black Belt or Green Belts who
are adept in the methodology of improvement.
l Process Owner
He or she is the person who owns the process from
the beginning to the end. The person is responsible
for holding and sustaining the gains from the
project execution. Process owners are assisted by
process operators who work on the process. Core
or key processes could even cut across functional
boundaries and departments. Depending on the
level of management, the ownership of processes
shall vary. Core processes are typically owned by
senior managers while sub process ownership
could rest with the middle management or junior
l Process Operator
They are the people who work on the process and
are responsible for ensuring that process para-meters
are maintained as desired. Process
operators play a major role in ensuring that the
gains are sustained. The effective training of
operators is a must, in order to ensure that
operators manage the process as per the process
control plan. The participation of critical operators
is a must in the Six Sigma project so that they can
own the improvements.
l Process Expert
He or she is a person who has an expertise on the
process. The person may or may not be a part of
DEBASHIS SARKAR 53
process, but is typically a subject matter expert
who brings in all the theoretical and practical
insights of a process. He or she is the knowledge
bank among the Six Sigma team members.
l Information Technology (IT) expert
He or she is a person who gives the technology
support to the project team. In quite a few
occasions, improvements require information
technology solution and this is where the IT expert
plays the role. His or her involvement should be
from the beginning of the project to ensure that
the right IT solution is effectively designed.
l Representative from the CFO’s office
This is the person from the office of the Chief
Financial Officer who guides and ascertains the
benefits of an improvement project. The role of
the CFO’s office in the improvement project has
been delved in detail in another lesson.
The above team members are required for the
effective execution of the project. For all group level
exercises such as brainstorming, FMEA (Failure Mode
Effect Analysis), Process Mapping etc., all members
must participate. Remember, the larger the participation
of the team members in Six Sigma project, the easier is
the implementation. I have observed in a few organ-izations
that Six Sigma projects typically remain the
baby of the Six Sigma project leader (i.e. Black Belt or
Green Belt) and there is cosmetic participation of the
teams. Remember, this is a recipe for disaster.
54 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Six Sigma Takeaway
The project leaders should never attempt to do
everything himself or herself.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 55
During the First Year of Six Sigma imple-mentation,
focus of deployment should be on
Value and not Volume
A well known organization set out on a journey of Six
Sigma deployment with a lot of vigour and fanfare.
However it was found that after two year’s deployment,
the desired impact could be felt for the investments
made. This organization had a strength of 1000, of which
100 people had been trained as Black Belts or Green
Belts, all of whom executed projects during the first
year. Yes, 10 per cent of the organization was working
on projects in the first year itself. All these projects had
been completed after the CEO had mandated that at
least 100 projects be completed within the first year of
deployment. The head of the Six Sigma in the organ-ization
mentioned that the company had invested
around Rs 3 crores on the initiative but had received
no tangible benefit, save for the hype and hoopla that
Six Sigma was being implemented. The senior manage-ment
as well as the CEO were turning skeptical about
56 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Six Sigma being another flavour of the month from the
den of a quality practitioner.
The above is an example of an organization where
the focus during the first year of implementation has
been on volume (number of projects) instead of the
value (benefits/impacts they can deliver). This is a mis-take
which organizations often commit. Often, in the
enthusiasm to reach a threshold, organizations com-mit
too many projects in the first year of deployment.
The first year of deployment is extremely critical for
Six Sigma’s success. This is the time when the tone of
Six Sigma deployment is set in the organization. If
people do not taste success after the first or second year
of deployment, the initiative shall get completely
thrown off. Organizations should consciously treat the
projects in the first year as a pilot. It is extremely
important that only a few projects are taken up and
that the focus is on the impact of the projects and not
on the number of projects. All efforts should be geared
to make them successful. These projects cannot be
anything but only those which are important for the
organization. Ensure that the projects are selected by
the Quality Council, the membership of which
comprises the CEO and senior management. Take up
only end-to-end projects (discussed later in another
lesson), the impact of which can be felt by the customer
as well as the stakeholders. The recommendation is to
take up a mix of projects on efficiencies as well as
customers. The temptation would be to take up only
efficiency projects as we would like to show quick rupee
savings. But it is important that we take up projects
which also lead to long term benefits such as revenue
DEBASHIS SARKAR 57
growth, customer loyalty and so on. This is required in
order to gain acceptability within the company that Six
Sigma can also be used for things other than cost
Six Sigma Takeaway
During the first year of Six Sigma deployment,
take up a few but meaningful and high impact
58 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 59
Appoint a Dashboard Manager who is entrusted
with the responsibility of tracking process metrics
As the number of projects increases in an organization,
it is recommended that a position of a dashboard
manager is created to track and monitor projects which
have been completed. This is important because if the
metrics of the completed projects are not looked at, the
processes could revert to the original state. This person
typically should report to the CEO or his/her direct
reportee. This is to ensure that the top management is
aware of the status of process performances that had
been taken up for improvement.
So, what are these dashboards? They are effective
ways of communicating the metrics of processes which
have been taken up for improvement using the Six
Sigma methodology. Dashboards use graphs, charts,
pictures or other visual techniques to communicate key
process metrics and provide a uniform template for
alerting managers to critical issues pertaining to Six
The dashboard manager should alert senior manage-ment
and champions of exceptional circumstances in a
timely manner. He/she should liaise with the process
owners to ensure that dashboards are prepared within
stipulated timelines and that the information is used
for arriving at root causes. The individual should
ascertain the impact of deviations on the business
objectives and larger goals of the organization; and keep
the management apprised of the same. The dashboard
manager also works with the organization to devise a
policy on what data can be made freely accessible and
what should be restricted.
The dashboard manager could commence by first
implementing the dashboards manually and then
graduate to partial automation. But his/her ultimate
goal should be digitization, which enables automation
of the processes for data entry, analysis and reporting.
This will not only increase efficiency but shall also
reduce errors. Digital dashboards are also called
cockpits, and allow timely access of Six Sigma metrics
to key stakeholders.
The dashboard manager should have an information
technology background and should have a liking for
data. A word of caution here is that setting up digital
cockpits are often not easy. This is because many of the
processes may be manual and automating them may
require enormous resources. The other challenges are
that often data systems do not talk to each other and
there is a lack of standardization of measurement
system across the company.
60 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
Six Sigma Takeaway
The dashboard manager should create a roadmap
for dashboard implementation. He should
commence with manual data presentation, move
to partial automation and finally target full
DEBASHIS SARKAR 61
Six Sigma deployment should precede with the
identification of Core Business Processes
Quite often, organizations are not aware of the core
business processes, mission-critical processes, key
business process or macro processes. It is thus essential
that before commencing on a Six Sigma journey you
decipher the core processes which support the mission
of the company. Organizations convert their strategies
to action through processes. Businesses are drawn
around functions but it is the processes which deliver
the business goals. Understanding the core processes
are critical to business success.
So what are the attributes of core processes?
l They are the processes that help in achieving
the business goals, fulfillment of the mission
and the attainment of its vision.
l They are the processes that are required for
organizational success and is supported by a
whole lot of sub-processes.
62 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l They are those processes that provide competi-tive
l They cut across functions and involve numer-ous
One of the methods of ascertaining the core processes
is by a tree diagram where the organizational goals such
as market share, increased sales, improved customer
satisfaction etc. are documented and then the processes
for achieving these goals are linked.
Potential Core Processes Sub-Processes
Deciding the core processes requires the top manage-ment’s
involvement. Typically organizations have 3–
10 core business processes. The following are examples
of the core processes of two companies which I have
studied very closely. For the sake of confidentiality, the
names have not been mentioned. However, you will
get an idea on what core processes are all about.
Core Processes of Two Companies
Company ABC Company XYZ
Corporate Governance Distribution
After Sales Service Supply Chain
Design and Development Research and Development
Customer Delivery Process Marketing
Sales and Marketing
Excellence in business can be achieved when the
focus is on improving the core processes and there is a
DEBASHIS SARKAR 63
continuous review on their effectiveness from the
customers’ and shareholders’ point of view. You should
leverage the power of Six Sigma by working on these
processes. Identification of core processes help to
redeploy improvement efforts that were previously
launched against relatively trivial processes.
Six Sigma Takeaway
Before deploying Six Sigma identify the core
processes in your organization.
64 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 65
Do not take up Improvement Projects in the
cafeteria during the early days of Six Sigma
I am aware of a company which during its early days
of implementation took up a project in the cafeteria and
parking. There was a major increase in Sigma levels
but the impact was not felt much. There was no flaw in
the methodology but the organization took up a project
which did not have strategic importance. It is impera-tive
that we begin with improving the processes that
are linked to the strategy. Randomly selected processes
for improvement may not have strategic importance
and you will only end up squandering valuable
resources. It is not as though projects should not be
taken up in a canteen but it is an issue of making choices
about which processes to improve and likely trade-offs
in resources allocation. Trivial processes such as that
of the cafeteria should be taken up when sufficient
progress has been made towards improving the core
business processes. Following are some of the processes
which should be taken up for improvement:
l Processes that support achievement strategic
and business goals. Target the core processes
which are directly linked to the strategy of the
l Processes that have senior management buy-in.
Do not take up processes which are not in
the radar of senior executives.
l Process which impact the customers are an ideal
choice for Six Sigma projects. It would be a good
idea to inventorize all processes that impact
customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
Specifically look for processes which are often
touched by customers.
l Processes which are cost intensive are also a
good choice. This means that a 25 per cent
improvement in a process that consumes
resources worth Rs 10 crore would mean a
saving of Rs 2.5 crore. However, this would
require that the organization should have
detailed process costs which many organiza-tions
do not have. Leveraging the activity-based-
costing to ascertain the true process cost
l Processes in which your organization is weak
vis-à-vis competition. However, the challenge
here would be to get the real voice of the
processes of the competitors. A good idea could
be to decipher this by talking to the competitor’s
66 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l Processes that have a clearly defined process
owner. It does not make sense to take up
processes which do not have an owner as there
will be nobody to implement the solutions.
l Processes which consume large amounts of
material are good candidates for improvement.
This is because reduction in wastes would mean
improving the efficiency and effectiveness of
It is the onus on the senior management and Six
Sigma champions to isolate the trivial processes from
vital processes which have significant impact on
Six Sigma Takeaway
Do not use Six Sigma to improve processes which
are in transition.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 67
Black Belts should not carry out small improve-ment
projects (read: Green Belt projects) in the
garb of those being Black Belt projects
A well known consumer goods company had started
its Six Sigma journey and had spent a lot of money in
training people as Black Belts and Green Belts.
However, on a visit to one of their manufacturing units
I found a Black Belt working on improving the process
for raising purchase orders. On probing I was told that
the turn-around time for generating purchase orders
was quite high and as a result the supplies to the unit
did not often happen on time. This was a clear case of
wasting a valuable resource as a Black Belt to work on
trivial process improvement projects. This is what
happens when an organization does not have clear
definitions for a Black Belt and a Green Belt Project. It
is imperative that these definitions are explicit and clear
so that the resources in Black Belts and Green Belts are
68 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
A Black Belt project looks at improving core business
processes which help at achieving a business goal. These
are typically cross functional, cross regional and cross
departmental projects which are run by Black Belts.
These projects should yield a significant return to the
organization and should be completed within six to nine
months. These projects could have any of the objectives
such as improving customer satisfaction, optimizing the
supply chain, reduction of defects, reduction of cycle
time, improvement of first-pass yield, shortening of lead
time, reduction of variability, optimization of product
performance, optimization of process performance,
cutting costs, reduction of the cost of quality, improve-ment
delivery performance and so on.
A Green Belt project looks at improving sub-processes
of a core business process. These are within
departments and are seldom across functions and
regions. Green Belts are typically part time Six Sigma
resources who take up improvements together with
regular work. The objectives could be same as the Black
Belt projects but the scale and scope is much smaller.
Before creating the cadre of Black Belts and Green
Belts, clearly define what comprises a Black Belt and
Green Belt project.
Six Sigma Takeaway
An organization should clearly define what
constitutes a Black Belt and Green Belt project.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 69
The project charter is a tool to manage, control
and approve Six Sigma projects
The project charter is the first step of a Six Sigma project.
It is a document that lays down the fundamentals on
which the project is run. The charter manages, controls
and approves the project that is being taken up for
improvement. It is a living document that gives an
overview of the project and evolves as it progresses.
The charter has to be scripted by the Black Belt or the
Green Belt with the help of the champion or sponsor.
This is because there are quite a few elements to it that
ties up with the larger picture of the business and, as
they have been part of the project selection exercise.
So what should a project charter contain? It comprises
l Business case.
l Problem statement.
l Goal statement or specific objective desired.
l Project scope and assumptions.
70 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l Elements out of scope.
l Stakeholders impacted (departments, custo-mers
or vendors influenced by the project).
l Champion’s name.
l Reporting manager of the person driving the
l Team Membership (black belts, green belts, sub-ject
matter expert, process owner, representa-tives
of all silos thru’ which the process cuts
across, IT support).
l Project milestones.
l Expected financial benefits.
An ideal project charter should be a one page (or
maximum two page) document. In many organizations
it is an integral part of the project tracking software. A
charter is like a contract that outlines the resources and
support that the champion will provide in return for
improvement objectives. A charter also helps teams to
avoid projects that have an overwhelming scope and
ensures projects are aligned to business needs.
Before closing on the charter do not forget to get the
champion’s sign off. By signing the charter the
champion commits to the project.
Six Sigma Takeaway
A project charter aids teams to avoid projects that
do not make business sense.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 71
Scripting the problem statement right is vital to
a Six Sigma project
Before beginning your Six Sigma project take all efforts
to clearly define the problem statement. If the problem
statement is not scripted correctly it can lead to the
project going awry.
So what is a problem statement?
A problem statement is a one or two-line description
of the symptoms arising from the pain to be addressed.
It is a visible deficiency that is observed in a product,
service or a process.
Once a pain or a concern has been identified, a
problem statement helps to understand it by giving
flesh to it. It is a mental representation of what is wrong.
It is a description of pain or what is not meeting the
customers needs/expectations. It could also be a gap
between the existing and desired state.
A problem statement should always be weaved in
terms that are visible, specific and measurable. It should
be of a size and complexity that is manageable.
72 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
While scripting a problem statement never talk about
solutions or give a preconceived indication of what the
root cause might be.
Never affix blame in the problem statement and do
not base it on a guess or an assumption. A problem
statement also bounds and frames the situation by
specifying what should or should not be included. It
should include a manageable set of concerns. Do not
include many problems into one problem statement.
A problem statement should answer the following:
l What has gone wrong?
l Where has the problem occurred?
l When did the problem occur?
l What is the magnitude of the problem?
l What has been the impact of the problem on
Here’s an example of a good problem statement:
The rework in XYZ flexi machine lying in a biscuit
packaging section is at 25 per cent due to the voltage
The rework in XYZ flexi machine lying in a biscuit
packing section is at an average of 25 per cent over the
last three months resulting in losses of Rs 132 lakhs to
DEBASHIS SARKAR 73
Six Sigma Takeaway
The objective of the problem statement is the
(a) Clarifying why the process or system produces
the effect that one aims to change,
(b) Measuring the performance of the process or
system that produces the effect,
(c) Understanding the situation that led to the
74 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 75
An effective Six Sigma deployment requires a
holistic mechanism to capture the voice of the
The following is a list of tools that can be used by your
organization to capture the voice of customers who
have experienced the product or service of your
l 1. Global Customer Surveys
These surveys are done with the objective to get a
feedback of the customers on all issues pertaining
to the relationship. It includes elements as product
or/and quality, price, image and so on. Such
surveys also find out what is important to the
customers and what is trivial to them. Global
customer surveys can also be used to provide a
competitive profile when the same is administered
on competitors’ customers who are actually your
potential customers. Global customer surveys are
typically comprehensive and encompass all
elements of a customer relationship. Designing a
questionnaire is critical to the success of a global
l 2. Transactional Surveys
Transaction surveys are administered immediately
after a customer has had an experience with the
organization’s product or service. The intent of the
survey is to take feedback when experience is still
fresh in the mind of the consumer. The feedback
is typically sorted between 7 and 30 days after the
event has occurred. The timely and specific
feedback from customers can be a valuable enabler
to process improvement. The methodologies used
for transaction surveys are:
2a). Personal Interviews: These are face-to-face
interactions between a company representative
and the customer.
2b). Electronic Surveys: Commonly used these
days, in this method the questionnaire is sent
using the electronic mail or the internet.
2c). Mail Surveys: In this method the question-naire
is sent by mail or fax. But the problem
here is that customers seldom respond.
2d). Telephone Interview: Extremely popular, in
this method the feedback is taken over tele-phone
and takes about 10–15 minutes. In
telephone interviews the questions should be
short and have relatively simple scales. The
biggest advantage here is the speed with which
the data can be gathered and is quite cost
76 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l 3. New, Declining and Lost Customer Survey
These surveys are used to determine why custo-mers
select the firm, reduce their buying or leave
the firm. The objective is to assess the role service
quality and other issues that come into play in
customer patronage and loyalty.
l 4. Focus Group Interviews
This method involves direct questioning of a small
group (usually eight to twelve people). Questions
focus on specific topics and can be used with
customers, non-customers, or employee groups.
l 5. Mystery Shopping
In mystery shopping researchers become custo-mers
to experience and evaluate the quality of
l 6. Customer Advisory Panels
This involves a group of customers who are
recruited periodically to provide the firm with
feedback and advise on service performance and
other issues. This involves capturing service
expectations and perceptions gathered in the field.
l 7. Employee Field Reports
This is a formal process for gathering, categorizing
and distributing field employee intelligence about
The objective of mentioning the above is to bring out
the point that for an effective voice of customer, one
single method may not be effective. You may have to
look at a mix of the above as each tool has some utility
value which the other cannot provide. It has been seen
that a single listening system may be inadequate as it
DEBASHIS SARKAR 77
gives a snapshot at a point in time from a particular
angle. Greater insights are unfurled when a series of
snapshots are taken from different lenses.
Six Sigma Takeaway
Always measure the customer’s feedback with
respect to customer’s expectations.
78 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
DEBASHIS SARKAR 79
It is important to focus on the Right Measure to
ascertain the Efficacy of a Process
When you talk about measurements of a process,
ascertain what is being measured in the process. This
is important for the impact to be felt by the customer. It
may be foolish to expect an efficiency measure to impact
the customer. What is required is to focus on the right
measure in an improvement project for the impact to
In any process, measures could be any of the
3. Outcome—Customer Satisfaction.
This is also delineated by the following model:
But what are each of these measures:
l Efficiency Measures: The measures of efficiency
quantify the resources consumed in the process
relative to minimum possible levels. They are
measured within the process. Efficiencies are not
measured by examining the products after they are
produced or by surveying customers. Process
measures represent parameters that directly control
the integration of materials, methods, machines and
the environment within the process. While frequently
understood and used in functioning operations,
process measures are often absent from service
functions. It should be the endeavour of improve-ment
teams in service companies to put process
parameters in place.
Some examples of efficiency measures are costs,
variability, cycle time and so on.
l Effectiveness Measures: The measures of process
effectiveness quantify the ability of a process to
deliver a product or service according to their specifi-cations.
These measures represent specific features,
values and attributes of each product or service that
are expected by a customer. Like efficiency measures
which are quantified relative to minimum theoretical
levels, effectiveness measures too are a relative term.
Measures of process effectiveness are calculated
through a comparison of the process’s ability to
deliver products and services (outputs) relative to
customer requirements. They compare the output
characteristics actually delivered by the process to
the corresponding characteristics specified by the
80 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l Outcome Measures: The measures of outcomes
quantify the ability of outputs to satisfy the needs of
their customers and represent the ultimate perfor-mance
measure. Outcomes are beyond the direct
control of the supplier and rely on the customer’s
expectations and actions.
Outcomes can be measured in two ways:
1. Product/Service effectiveness.
Product/service effectiveness measure determines
how well the product or service (output) performs
in the customer’s process.
2. Customer Satisfaction.
3. Customer satisfaction determines how well each
product and service satisfies the needs and
expectations of the customer and recognizes that
satisfaction is based on vague, idiosyncratic
Remember, measures of outcome level can be
determined only after the product has been delivered
or the service has been provided. For an impact to be
felt by the customer, do not forget to focus on the
Six Sigma Takeaway
By just targeting on efficiency measures, the
customer may not feel the impact. Focus both on
effectiveness and efficiency measures.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 81
Together with Sigma levels keep an eye on the
class of the process
I have often seen that people are satisfied once
improvements have been carried using Six Sigma. Their
rational is that the Sigma levels have improved so things
are all hunky-dory. While there is nothing wrong in
this philosophy, it may be worthwhile to evaluate your
process with respect to the class in the Process-Grid
given on the following page. Theoretically the goal of
all processes should be to become Class 1.
The Class of Process is identified by the following
traits and characteristics:
Process Type Name
Class 6 Ill-defined
Class 5 Defined
Class 4 Refined
Class 3 Capable
Class 2 Efficient and Effective
Class 1 Mature
82 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
The decision whether to make a process Class 1 or
Class 2 or Class 3 is a business call and is dependant on
customer requirements. Remember, in certain pro-cesses;
even a Class 3 process is fine while in others it
is imperative that the process in Class1. There are huge
costs associated in taking processes from Class 3 to Class
1. And this extra cost is to a need of the customer and
he or she is willing to pay for it.
Moving from Class 1 to Class 6 is not an easy task.
The diagram gives an approximate time frame for a
process to reach from Class 6 to Class 1. The duration
may change based on the complexity and current state
of the process.
Time Estimates for Class based Improvements
The time frames mentioned are pretty ambitious and
we should not try to shorten it by taking short cuts. As
84 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
improvements happen it is important to give sufficient
time to allow the improvements to ingrain within the
Six Sigma Takeaway
Ascertaining the class of process shall give insights
into the Sigma levels that should be achieved.
DEBASHIS SARKAR 85
While executing DMAIC projects do not take
short cuts. Follow all the steps
Six Sigma project essentially comprises five steps which
have been scripted below:
o Step 1—Define: This is the first step of Six Sigma
methodology and sets the foundation for carrying
out an improvement project. It aims to clearly
define the project with the champion while
scripting clear goals and specifying the process
with its customers and suppliers. The deliverables
of this step are:
l Project charter (comprising problem statement,
goal statement, business case, primary quality
characteristics also called CTQ, project mile-stones,
what is in its scope, what is out of its
scope, definition of a defect).
l Project boundaries.
l High level process map.
86 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA
l Key process customers and suppliers.
l Project plan.
l Formation of a project’s team.
l Type of resources that will be required.
o Step 2—Measure: The second step of a DMAIC
methodology aims to gather data for establishing
the current state. The objective of this step is to
find out the extent of the problem and collect data
to ascertain the few vital root causes. The
deliverables of this step are:
l Identifying the Xs which affect the Y. (This is
from the relationship Y= f (x), where Y is the
outcome of a process and Xs are the causes of
the predictors of the process).
l Detailed process map.
l Cause and effect diagram and a cause and effect
l Data collection plan.
l Sampling strategy and sample size.
l Measurement system including gauge repeat-ability
and reproducibility study.
l Carrying out data collection to ensure there is
sufficient data for analysis.
l Baselining the current performance levels or
l Ascertaining yields.
o Step 3—Analyze: This step endeavours to unfurl
the potential sources of variation and reduce the
number of process variables to be acted on in the
DEBASHIS SARKAR 87
improvement phase. Some of the key deliverables
of this step are:
l Process capability.
l Statistical analysis of the significance of X
variables with respect to Y, leverage tools as
analysis of variance (ANOVA), regression
l Detailed process map.
l Statistically validated root causes of the
l Prioritized areas for improvement.
o Step 4—Improve: In this phase the root causes of
the problem should be removed and the solution
in the process need to be standardized. The
proposed solutions are confirmed in this stage and
the implementation strategy is worked out. To
ensure that the solutions are effective, they are
tried out in a prototype before commencing on a
full-fledged improvement. Some of the key
deliverables of this step are:
l Potential solutions.
l New process map.
l Piloting solutions.
l Incorporating the learnings of the pilot in the
l Identification of resources that are needed for
l Revised tolerances of the modified process.
l New capability analysis.
88 LESSONS IN SIX SIGMA